Over the years I have retired many times. So have you.
The demographic of this blog leans heavily toward early retirement. This has always bothered me. I always feel like I have to be an apologist for all the folks enjoying their work. Life would be less bright for me and my brethren if we were forced to do what we enjoy most, less. Why is this? What is the hang-up with this retirement thing?
Zig Ziglar, God rest his soul, pointed out to me 30 years ago what retirement really means. I only met Zig once and it was enough. We talked and shook hands. In that short meeting I confessed to Zig I was going to cash it in and sit around reading all day. Now Zig is a good guy. He didn’t say nasty things to me, but for the smallest fraction of a second his face had a tell. I knew Zig was going to tell me something profound.
He told me to go home and verify what he was about to say. He said, “Look up the definition of retirement in the dictionary. It means used up, worthless, ready for replacement.” Worthless! I am not used up or worthless!
I did go home and check the dictionary and Zig was right. This whole retirement thing was a BS story. Years later, when it was cool to retire early, I came across the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) crowd. I love the concept of simple living and frugality. It was frugality that led me to the community, not the early retirement thing. Now CNBC and the Yahoo newsfeed have a story of somebody who retired at 12 while working through middle school on a regular basis. I’m still not buying it.
Retirement is a stupid goal. Sorry. But it really is. Who works hard, saves and invests, only to reach a goal of worthlessness? An idiot, that’s who. I’m NOT used up! And neither are you. You retire (or is that expire) when you take your last breath. We need a different meaning for retirement.
We need a word—don’t wait for me to provide one because I don’t have one that will sell as good as “retire”—which will convey what we mean better. I’d sue CNBC if they ran an article saying I was retired, used up, worthless, ready for the landfill. (Okay, I wouldn’t sue. The additional traffic to this blog would allow me to swallow my pride.) Those smiling faces in pictures in the articles saying these people retired at 32 are really grimaces. To imagine the world looking at me with a headline over my face saying I’m retired, useless, past my prime, would irritate me to no end.
New World Order
If we can’t find a better word, we need a better definition for the word we are using. I recommend we lobby the dictionary industry until they add one more definition to the word retire. Here is my recommendation: Definition #38: A change in career path.
It is simple, easy to understand and captures what is really meant.
I see so many people now in this community doing the retirement thing and with rare exception they are only doing something different. It was only a career change! I met husband and wife teachers a few years back at Camp Mustache as they were in the last throes of gainful employment. Their goal was to travel the world and travel the world they have.
But they still earn money while traveling! She writes romance novels and is making money doing it. Last I checked writing took work. It might be easy pushing nouns up against verbs; the real problem is knowing which nouns and which verbs. Another retirement foiled and I am happy to share it with the world these, ahem, retired teaches are not used up or worthless.
Pete over at Mr. Money Mustache catches hell on a regular basis for being a hypocrite. You call somebody a hypocrite and you’re asking to get your beak busted. The argument against Pete is simple. Hey, buddy, you’re not retired. You write a blog. Pete is a gentleman. Me, I’d send a return message with the international sign language of my middle finger. Christ, people! If anybody embodies the FIRE community it is Pete! He gives us Definition #39 to the word retire: Doing whatever the heck you want with your day.
Pete is not used up, people! He walks a different path, a path where he spends inordinate amounts of time with his wife and son. That is not retirement by the dictionary definition. It’s the exact opposite. A dad raising his own kid? What has the world come to? This is what we call worthless now?
The Real Early Retirement
There is only one real retirement and it is six feet under. Nobody I know of has a goal to reach the finish line in life. (Okay, there was a nut job over in Tupelo back in 38, but I digress.) Life is a journey and we need to stop getting hung up (nice choice of word, huh) on quitting our jobs. Seth Godin wrote a short book on the subject: The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). It’s a good book. You should read it.
Life is grainy. We do things for a while until we get sick of it and then go do something else for a couple years. There are been so many phases to our lives.
I grew up on a farm and after a short stint in town returned to where I felt most at home, the countryside. Before long my 10 acres of the world had chickens and steers. The work was hard, yet satisfying. I did it for more than 15 years. Then one day it ended. I had a blog to write and other things I wanted to try in life. I fought back tears as the last of my boys were loaded on the cattle truck. I promised myself I could have steers again someday. We both know the odds of that are long. I retired from farming for good. (Unless you count the 25 chickens running around the place.)
My tax practice evolved over the years. In a way you could say I retired several times from the tax/accounting business. I retired from doing taxes by hand back around 1988. Didn’t fight tears when that one hit the trash can. Go figure. All my verbiage about loving my work and nary a tear for a tried and true method of tax preparation used successfully for millennia. (It worked for the Sumerians it should be good enough for me.)
I played janitor for a year and retired from that one mighty quick. Okay, I guess a guy can get used up in certain cases.
The whole point of this discussion is to convince you, no, impress upon you it is okay to change course in life. Experiencing new things is NOT retirement. Ms. Olson enjoys traveling with her husband and writing novels. Not used up! Pete loves telling his story and spreading the gospel of frugality and responsible resource utilization. Not used up! I found my calling early in life and kept doing it. Not used up!
And you, my good friend, are not used up. You are not retired; just tired. You need a nap. Go take one. You need a change of venue. So change it. You want to experience something else, something new. By all means, experience it.
Stop worrying about retiring young or at any age, for that matter. It’s not about getting used up, or whatever definition you want to apply to the word retire. It’s about living life right, with meaning, with purpose. The truly retired disappear, never to be seen again. You are not retired and never will be until your dying breath. And that is a good thing.
It’s about living the life you choose. And if that is what you meant by retire, then you keep smiling from the news feed. I’ll smile with you.